"Leave the Fads to the Yankees:" the Campaigns for Commission and City Manager Government in Toronto, 1910-1926

By Petersen, Patricia | Urban History Review, October 1991 | Go to article overview

"Leave the Fads to the Yankees:" the Campaigns for Commission and City Manager Government in Toronto, 1910-1926


Petersen, Patricia, Urban History Review


Abstract

Does the border between the United States and Canada make a difference? To a political scientist it does for the obvious reason: the border defines two different political entities with different forms of government, different political customs and conventions. Two attempts in the first thirty years of the twentieth century to change the structure of the government of the City of Toronto illustrate the difference the border can make.

The two proposals, commission government and city manager government, had originated with municipal reformers in the United States during the Progressive Era. The main idea behind both plans was to concentrate the executive and legislative authority in one governing unit. Commission and city manager government, however, attracted only a few supporters in the City despite their extreme popularity in the United States. City government in Toronto was not considered as bad as the government in those cities in the United States that had changed to new forms. Moreover, the proposals were American innovations and Toronto politicians were wary of American fads, especially ones like these which were drawn "from the uncertain spheres of political theory."

Resume

La frontiere entre les Etats-Unis et le Canada change-t-elle quelquechose? Pour un specialiste en science politique, et pour d'evidentes raisons, la reponse est oui: la frontiere separe deux entites politiques distinctes, avec chacune une forme de gouvernement distinct, des coutumes et des conventions politiques distinctes. Au cours des trente premieres annees du [20.sup.e] siecle, deux tentatives visant a modifier la structure du gouvernement de la ville de Toronto illustrent la difference que peutfaire cette frontiere.

Les deux propositions, le gouvernement avec une commission et le gouvernement avec un directeur municipal emanaient de reformateurs municipaux americains, et dataient de l'age du progres. L'idee etait avant tout de reunir le pouvoir executif et le pouvoir legislatif en une meme unite administrative. Cependant, ce mode de gouvernement avec une commission et un directeur municipal ne rallia a Toronto que quelques adeptes, alors qu'il connut aux Etats-Unis un tres grand succes. Le gouvernement municipal de Toronto n'etait pas considere comme etant aussi desastreux que celui des villes americaines qui avaient adopte les nouvelles formules. De plus, ces propositions etaient des innovations americaines, et les politiciens de Toronto eprouvaient une certaine mefiance a l'egard des modes americaines, en particulier, des modes comme celles-ci emanant "des spheres incertaines d'une theorie politique."

**********

Our sharing 4000 miles of border with a large and energetic country may have some disadvantages, but it has at least one advantage: it gives us something to talk about. One question which continually occupies Canadians is the amount of influence the United States has had on their country. The Progressive Era which extended from approximately the 1880s to the 1920s was a period of intense reform in the United States. Much of this reform was directed at cities. Canadians were also occupied with urban reform during the same period, although to a lesser extent, (for one thing, Canada had fewer cities). It seems highly likely, therefore, that there would be a sharing of reform ideas across the border. This paper examines several unsuccessful attempts to import two of the most popular innovations of the Progressive Era to Toronto: commission and city manager government.

The Progressive Era in the United States, and the reform movements in Canada during the same period, were responses to changes engendered by rapid industrialization. City governments, in particular, bore the brunt of the changes for they had to provide basic services to their growing populations and developing industries. Cities were responsible for ensuring a supply of clean water, adequate gas and electricity for heat and light, some form of public transportation, and a healthy environment for their residents.

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